In the not too distant past, you’d have been forgiven for thinking the worst – that any documentary about Pete Doherty would end on a tragic note. The Libertines co-frontman’s struggles with addiction have been well-documented to the point that, oftentimes, the circus around his issues – tabloid vultures feeding off his misfortune during and after his relationship with Kate Moss, stints in prison and a notorious habit of terrible time-keeping – overshadowed one of Britain’s most incendiary modern bands.
Peter Doherty: Stranger In My Own Skin relives those fraught days, which spanned the early noughties to mid teens. Shot and directed by Doherty’s now-wife Katia deVidas, it gets uncomfortably up close with his addiction, showing us not just the consequences and impact of him succumbing to heroin, but the musician nodding out as the drug works its way through his system. On more than one occasion, we see the actions that get him into that state – the black tourniquet pulled tight around his arm, the black tar melting and bubbling on a spoon, ready for injection. The film stops just short of showing the needle going into his arm, but the rest of the imagery is so unsettlingly vivid, it might as well have done.
These scenes might make you wonder: why? What’s the point in getting that close to the bone? Other moments in the film portray Doherty’s plight powerfully enough – we see him with sores on his arm from injecting; slumped on his bed, sadness and emptiness simultaneously in his big, dark eyes as he wearily laments the hold heroin has on him. Most heartbreaking of all are the glimpses of whip-smart Pete that momentarily shine through, dropping witty lines and grinning cheekily before disappearing into himself again.
In another warts ’n’ all moment, a jovial doctor implants an opiate blocker in his stomach, but before long Doherty is bargaining with himself that he’ll just do “one more bag” before he heads off to the rehab stint in Thailand that he keeps putting off. There are snippets of narration from present-day Doherty to give more insight and reflection, and interviews with people around him for outside perspective.
The media frenzy that surrounded the star often lacked humanity, treating his addiction in a sensationalist, cruel manner designed to outrage, ridicule, sell copies and get clicks rather than educate and inspire empathy. Perhaps, then, those most uncomfortable scenes are necessary to highlight just how awful the treatment of Doherty was – while the column inches and lurid headlines stacked up, a man was free-falling into oblivion. Sometimes, though, Stranger In My Own Skin feels complicit too. There’s a scene where, at home, a bleary-eyed Doherty reminds deVidas he’s told her to turn the camera off. “I’ve stopped filming,” she tells him, still rolling.
Thankfully, Stranger In My Own Skin doesn’t exclusively look back at that decade of detriment. It follows Doherty – eventually – to Hope Rehab in Thailand, where he gets himself clean and, for the first time in the film, looks truly healthy. The Libertines join him to record their third album ‘Anthems For Doomed Youth’ and we whizz through his more recent career path.
At the documentary’s end, he snuffs out the possibility of a tragic finale, sharing a desire to help other addicts on their road to recovery. A title screen that closes it all out calls attention to the Libs’ upcoming fourth record, out next year, while promising “many more records” to come. Years ago, such a finish would have seemed unlikely. DeVidas’ film might be a difficult watch but, as well as serving up a reminder of the horrors of addiction, at least it gives us plenty to be grateful for too.
- Director: Katia deVidas
- Featuring: Pete Doherty, Mick Jones, Peter Wolfe
- Release date: November 9 (in UK cinemas)
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